She recalls an incident in 2018 that took place on a bus. It was a bumpy ride, and when the bus lurched, the woman sitting next to her exclaimed: “Don’t touch me! You have a skin condition, don’t touch me!”
All she could say then was “I did not touch you…” and promptly broke down in uncontrollable tears. She could not hold them back.
Yeo Jing Rui, 27, suffers from a little known condition called Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW), also known as Red Skin Syndrome. It is a skin condition unrecognised in the medical community because it is caused by medication – in her case, topical steroid creams prescribed by dermatologists.
“With prolonged usage of these creams, the skin gets addicted and damaged, and this condition is often mistaken for persistent and chronic eczema,” Yeo says.
She explains that when TSW sufferers stop using such steroids, they suffer breakouts on their skin because it has become dependent on the creams to look normal.
Despite suffering from the condition since she was a young child, Yeo discovered she had TSW only about six years ago only when she looked up her symptoms online and found a Topical Steroid Addiction network page.
She tells The Pride in a video: “I was so angry. How could doctors continually prescribe this without telling us the side effects or warning us that this can be addictive?”
Everyday things like showering were very difficult for Yeo. When she first started suffering from withdrawal, her skin was raw and oozing.
“I was also in a girls school, so everybody was looking pretty. In contrast, I had patches all over my skin. I felt very out of place.”
Last April, Yeo started to document her recovery journey on Instagram with progress pictures, revealing little snippets of her past.
“As the reactions got more positive and encouraging, I realised that I had nothing to fear. I don’t have to feel self-conscious.”
Yeo says that she found an international TSW community on Instagram where members give tips on how to manage their skin, share treatments, as well as provide support, encouragement and friendship for each other. Several Singaporeans even meet up regularly to support each other with sensitivity and humour.
In another video on The Pride, Singaporean TSW sufferer Dean Wong, who posts TSW memes on his Instagram, says: “Even though we are from different countries, we can still relate on the same level because of what we are going through.”
Another TSW sufferer Gerald Boo, shares in the video that he was very appreciative when another TSW sufferer in the community offered him a room to stay, as renovation work done near his home caused his condition to flare up.
“It’s so hard to find an alternative location to stay. Who would want to rent a room to a zombie like this?” Boo laughs while showing the raw blistered skin on his hand.
It is on Instagram that Yeo has reached out to other TSW sufferers.
As a trained social worker, Yeo feels fulfilled helping to alleviate others’ emotional pain. She hopes to connect other sufferers to the community to help them feel less alone.
Since Yeo’s story was first released on The Pride in July, she has received overwhelming response from the community, friends, other media platforms, and even strangers who reached out to her on Instagram for help. In less than a month since she first spoke to The Pride, her followers on Instagram almost doubled to 2,000.
Yeo tells The Pride: “A lot of people suffering from TSW unknowingly were telling me they finally know what condition they are going through, and they have been hiding their skin condition without anyone to talk to, and now have finally discovered the community and will work on becoming more confident!”
At the same time, she says that it was a little overwhelming as a lot of them were depressed, some even suicidal.
However, the huge support from the TSW community has motivated her to continue advocating for TSW awareness.
Yeo says: “It was nice to see that one person who stands up can also inspire others to have the courage to stand up and speak their truth.”
She hopes that more people in the TSW community will speak out and share their stories so that others can also get the same help.
Yeo has come a long way since she first discovered she was suffering from TSW six years ago.
She says, smiling: “I no longer feel like there is something wrong with me. I used to wear long sleeves, but now I just want to show my skin.”
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